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Men on Diets

Move over, ladies -- the men are dieting too.
By Chris Colin
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.

Diets aren’t just for women – Men diet too

Since his quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2004, the former McDonald's-lover-in-chief has been strikingly candid about his relationship to food -- candid not just for a former world leader, but candid for any man. "I was a fat band boy," he writes in My Life (a hefty volume, ironically, weighing nearly three-and-a-half pounds).

In the book, he discusses his weight fluctuations and admits to experimenting with a kind of homespun precursor to the Atkins diet. This past October, he told the New York Times that he weighs himself daily. Famously America's "first black president," Clinton might well become America's first female ex-president.

Indeed, the vast universe of dieting has been a kind of private (and grim) clubhouse for women. A realm of Jenny Craig and egg whites, Weight Watchers and fat-free yogurt, it's historically been glimpsed by men only from across the dinner table. But increasingly, the unfairer sex is beginning to find a corner in that realm all its own.

"Men are becoming more conscious of health, and with that, weight," says Betsy Klein, a registered dietician in Miami. "Being overweight is becoming such a marker for diabetes and heart disease."

Diet and masculinity

Of course the health risks of a bad diet are just part of men's motivation for changing how they eat -- we also care about how we look.

"Males of all ages are being affected by our highly body-conscious culture now," says registered dietician and exercise physiologist Samantha Heller. "Body dysmorphia -- an unhealthy view of the body -- is also increasing in men as well as women.” She tells WebMD that for men, these issues manifest differently than with women. “They tend to work out a lot, and many turn to anabolic steroids. And more and more, they're dieting while they do this."

Or at least they're doing something while they do this. Venturing into territory traditionally reserved for women isn't always easy for men, and they tend to couch their involvement in it differently -- starting with the language they use.

"They don't always call it 'dieting,'" Heller says. "'Dieting' and 'slim' don't resonate well with men. Their goals are more to feel strong and masculine. Not only does the term dieting sound feminine, but dieting also causes them to worry they'll lose muscle mass in the process."

"Fine with me that they don't like that word,” Klein says, “I don't either. To me, dieting implies a beginning and an end, as opposed to the full lifestyle change that they need."

So what ideas do put men in front of healthier plates? Visions of brawniness, it would seem. As Klein, Heller, and a multibillion-dollar dietary supplement industry attest, it's an interest in bodybuilding, stamina, and other hallmarks of masculinity that really get guys to be food-conscious. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the way to his stomach is apparently through his biceps.

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